Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, November 15, 1999

Pre-season promise
of Coach Jones
is fulfilled

ON Saturday night, someone I hadn't seen in many years tapped me on the shoulder at Aloha Stadium. I was comfortably settled in my seat -- wearing green clothes, a green visor, binoculars in one hand, Star-Bulletin line-up in the other and waiting for the opening kickoff -- when he got my attention and remarked, "Gee, I didn't know you were such a big Rainbow football fan."

Isn't everybody?

University of Hawaii ticket-holders who were scared away from Halawa by ominous-looking rain clouds are now thumping their foreheads, because they missed a humdinger of a match-up between UH and Fresno State.

Those lucky enough to be present will never, ever forget that evening, because it resulted in the most suspenseful, exhilarating and joyous win in UH gridiron history.

The victory was especially fulfilling because it followed a horrid 0-12 season that led to the firing of one coach and the hiring of another. And oh, what a leader we got in a man named June.

Previously the interim head of the San Diego Chargers, Jones gave up the big bucks and prominence of the pros to return to Hawaii and coach a university team, and a losing one at that. Was he a bit coco-nutty or what?

Far from it. Slowly, methodically, he assembled his staff. They taught and talked up the players. The students practiced hard and began believing in themselves again.

Then on Saturday, the whole painstaking process culminated with a 31-24 squeaker in double overtime, a share of the Western Athletic Conference title and an opportunity to play in a post-season bowl.

From cellar to champ in one short year. Can you believe it?

One guy easily can, although you wouldn't know it by listening to his sound bites on TV sportscasts or reading his quotes in the newspapers.

June Jones is a stranger to braggadocio and hype. Every time reporters try to get him to say anything effusive about the team, the stone-faced coach says something akin to, "I'm not even thinking about a WAC championship or bowl game right now. If we keep winning, everything will take care of itself."

YET I do remember once, and only once, that Coach Jones predicted big things for the Rainbows -- even before they started winning.

It was at the Na Koa Football Club's annual fund-raiser back in August at the UH Stan Sheriff Center. Hundreds gathered to hear featured speaker Mouse Davis, father of the run-and-shoot offense and the coach at Portland State when Jones was its quarterback.

Sitting at our table and listening intently was Dan Robinson, a soft-spoken but obviously poised young man. During dinner, the UH starting quarterback was able to joke about his debacle of a college career, but how painful it must have been for him, for the entire team.

Then, after Davis gave an arm-flailing, animated pep talk to the crowd of football boosters, the usually terse and restrained Jones came up to the podium to thank everybody for coming.

That's when he predicted, in the most animated manner I had ever seen in him, that the UH players in attendance -- including our tablemate, Mr. Robinson -- were going to be part of "the greatest turnaround in NCAA history."

A promise made. A promise kept. Enough said.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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